Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The night Wilt Chamberlain scored 100

      Fifty years ago this week

     The evening of March 2, 1962, was cold, and just 4,124 spectators shuffled into the 7,200-seat Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, Pa., to see a basketball game. What they couldn't have realized was that they were about to witness one of the most historic basketball games of all time.
     The game pitted the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks. The Warriors were led by 7-foot-1 center Wilt Chamberlain, already a star in only his third year in the league. Just three months earlier, he had put together a streak of seven consecutive games scoring 50-plus points. But he also had a notorious weakness -- he could only hit about half his free throws (sound familiar Shaquille O'Neal fans?).
     Early on, it became clear that Chamberlain was in for a big night. His teammates fed him the ball every chance they got. The Knicks responded by double-teaming him and fouling him. But the double-teaming wasn't enough and even at the free throw line Chamberlain was hot, hitting 13 of 14 free throws in the first half.
     Chamberlain had 41 points at halftime, and in the second half public address announcer Dave Zinkoff started announcing the big man's point total after every basket. At the end of the third quarter, Chamberlain had 69 points and, with a 100-point seemingly in reach,  the crowd was getting frenzied.
     Even though they were behind, the Knicks tried to stall to keep Chamberlain from scoring more. The Warriors had to foul to get the ball back. Finally, with just seconds remaining, Chamberlain put in his 100th point and the crowd poured onto the court.
     Altogether, Chamberlain hit 36 of 63 field goals, and a sizzling 28 of 32 free throws. His 100 points still stands as an NBA record. No one has ever come close to topping it.
     In this game, he also set league records for field goals, free throws, most points for a quarter (31), and most points for a half (59).
     The Knicks set a record too in losing 169-147; their point total was the most ever by a losing team.
     Despite the historic nature of this game, you'll never see highlights of it on television, even if you watch ESPN 24 hours a day. As hard as it may be to believe in this age of the omnipresent camcorder, there is no film or videotape of Chamberlain's 100-point performance.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What's the phone number of the Compton Courthouse?

How can you reach a human at the Compton Court?  This number worked for me: (310) 603-7777.  They'll answer "Facilities," but it is the court and it is an actual person who can transfer you to the right desk.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book review: "Riddle of the Ice" by Myron Arms

It's probably not easy to get the average person interested in the science of large ice formations, so in "Riddle of the Ice" author Myron Arms tries to sneak his lectures in.

This book is built around Arms' 1994 sailing voyage along the eastern coast of Canada and the western coast of Greenland. It is, he makes clear, an enchanting region featuring spectacular glaciers and huge icebergs, and just enough storms to keep a small sailing crew on edge. But the trip seems to be only a ploy to draw you in. What Arms actually wants to talk about are the changing patterns of ice in the north Atlantic region, so he repeatedly interrupts the sailing narrative to talk about science.

Arms mean well he wants us all to think more about the human role in global climate change but you'd have to be really, really interested in ice to stay with his long and winding discussions of such gripping concepts as the "side channel export hypothesis," "Bond-Heinrich cycles," and the "Great Salinity Anomaly." He tries to present the topic as something of a murder mystery, but he comes to no resolution or solid conclusions other than the acknowledgment that it's a really complex subject. (Also, since I read this book 14 years after it was published, I imagine that some of the science described here has been superseded by later research.)

I did enjoy Arms' description of the sailing trip, since I wasn't familiar with the geography of this area beforehand. And Arms' contentious relationship with a young crew member named Blue, who chides the author for not being environmentally pure enough, spices up the story. But the hybrid nature of the book falls short.

If you're interested eastern Canada and Greenland, two very good books are the "The Last Gentleman Adventurer: Coming of Age in the Arctic" by Edward Beauclerk Maurice and "Two Against the Ice" by Ejnar Mikkelsen.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Movie review: "Journey 2: Mysterious Island"

If my family is any indication, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" is a movie that is likely to divide parents and children.

Dwayne Johnson, Josh Hutcherson and Luis Guzman

My wife and I took our kids, ages 9 and 11, to see this sequel to 2008's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and our group came out strongly divided.

My wife and I thought the movie was pretty dreadful, hampered as it was by a clunky script, wooden acting and a predictable story.  Our kids were thrilled by the action, adventure and danger in a land of giant lizards, miniature elephants, and enormous bees that can be ridden like jetskis. They LOVED it.

In a way, we're both right we're just watching the movie from different perspectives.

The story surrounds designated sullen teenager Sean (Josh Hutcherson), a self-centered character so obnoxious I was rooting for him to be eaten by the oversized beasts the computer graphics department spit out for the story.

At the start, Sean gets in trouble with police after breaking into a satellite facility and is grounded by his mom (Kristin Davis) and stepdad Hank (Dwayne ("The Rock") Johnson. Hank is still learning how to be a dad to Sean and somehow interprets "grounded" as "spend thousands of dollars traveling together to a mysterious island on other side of the world because Sean really, really wants to."

On the island of Palau, everyone tells them that they'll surely die before reaching the supposed site of the island since deadly storms surround the area. But once Sean sees that the story's designated cute girl (Vanessa Hudgens) will be coming along they decide to go anyway, because, after all, who wants to argue with an obstinate, horny teenager?

Once on the island, the characters face a steady drumbeat of crises while barely allowing a hair to fall out of place. To say that the story lacks plausibility is like saying that Madonna lacks virginity, so my suggestion if you do have to watch this is to just give it up and let it ride.

That's certainly how my kids approached it little things like logic and coherence don't matter much when you have danger, teenage lust and giant electric eels on the screen.

Review: L.A. Fitness on Bellflower in Long Beach

I've been a member of L.A. Fitness for about a year, and I've had a fair chance to assess my local club (2180 N. Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, Calif.).

Generally, this is a pretty good club. It's clean, with a nice variety of weights, cardio machines and other equipment. It has an area for stretching and abdominals. The treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes all have TVs attached with a choice of 10 channels (plug in your own headphones).  It has a basketball court, swimming pool and hot tub, and some exercise classes.

All in all, there's something for everyone here. Still, if you're considering joining  there are a handful of negatives to consider:

  • It doesn't open early enough on weekends. During the week, this club opens at 5 a.m, but inexplicably stays closed on Saturdays and Sundays until 8 a.m. For those who would like to get their day started with a workout first thing, 8 a.m. doesn't cut it.  One Saturday I went by the club and found I'm not making this up 15 people lined up outside this L.A. Fitness at 7:35 a.m.  Clearly, the demand is there for an earlier opening.
  • Commission-oriented sales staff. Probably the most unpleasant aspect of joining L.A. Fitness is actually joining it, because you will probably have to deal with a salesperson who seems to be training for a future on a used car lot. They give you a phony smile, have you take a seat and then proceed to try to steer you into the highest priced membership they can. Ugh. One way around this is to sign up online at Even if you don't join online, you will get some sense of the prices before you enter the club.
  • Line up for spinning. Think twice if you're considering joining this club for the spinning classes. Some of these classes are so popular that people line up 45 minutes early for them (otherwise, you don't get in). You'd think that L.A. Fitness would notice this demand and add more spinning classes but I've seen no evidence of that.

For the most part, there's enough equipment that you don't have to wait to use it. Over a year, there have been three times when I've had to wait for a treadmill, and on a visit on Martin Luther King Day, my wife found that ALL the cardio machines were in use. A few times a year is not terrible, but when checking out the club it's a good idea to visit at the time of day you'd normally use it to see how crowded it is.

The televisions on the cardio machines are a nice feature, but about one out of every 10 times, I find a TV that doesn't operate right. It's an annoyance, but it's usually easy to move to a different machine.

If basketball interests you, you can find a game here. But note that the edge of the court IS the wall.  So unless you're looking for a concussion, this is no place to go diving for a ball.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book review: "Death and Oil" by Brad Matsen

"Death and Oil" is a crisply written account of the deadliest oil rig disaster of all time. Author Brad Matsen lays out, in careful detail, the events that destroyed the Piper Alpha oil platform off the coast of Scotland in 1988.

While it is ultimately a rather grim story 162 men died there are some bright spots in the stories of those men who managed to survive. Matsen makes it clear that those who survived made extra efforts to get off the rig, while those who sat and waited for rescue died.

Matsen shows a knack for including just the right details to bring the story alive. For example, he describes the aftermath of an explosion in Piper Alpha's main control room with these clear images:

"Clark had hit the wall headfirst. He was covered with blood from cuts on his face but rose to his knees through a waist-high haze of putrid smoke that filled the room. The control panels were a mess of broken glass and sparking electrical wires. Telephones and radio mikes swung on their cords. Clark looked down through the smoke and saw Bollands writhing on the floor, but the screech of metal-to-metal torment made saying anything to him impossible."

I also liked the sections on the development of offshore drilling, the history of Occidental oil and the background of Armand Hammer, Occidental's brash leader. The book has a good index - if you get confused about any of the characters or other elements, you can quickly check to find earlier references.

My one complaint about "Death and Oil" is that it is often hard to follow the workers' movements around the various tiers of the rig. The book does have one drawing showing the general layout of Piper Alpha, but one or two more detailed illustrations would have helped the reader understand references to things like the "production deck," "D Module," and the "sixty-eight" level.